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October 25, 2013

Alternative Obamacare Sign Up Methods Are Not Working [Errol F]

In the President's statement Monday he reminded people that, while the website was broken, people could sign up "the old-fashioned way – offline." But Politico reports that effort isn't going so well:

POLITICO reporters who got recorded announcements earlier in the week — sometimes directing them to try HealthCare.gov — can now get through to the call center. Once they connect, staffers like “Justin” try to get people’s information into the online system.

But “Justin” doesn’t have a fast track. Asked if the website works better for him than the general public, he responded: “No.”

“The site does not work for us either,” he said.

It's not just that the phone center isn't really working at the moment, it's that it was never intended to do what the President is asking it to do.

“The telephone call center is not a realistic alternative to the website,” said Adam Linker, a health policy analyst for the North Carolina Justice Center, a consumer advocacy group. “The marketplace was billed as a place to easily shop and compare plans, but on the phone there is no real way to do that.”

Others agree that the call centers’ representatives can provide only limited help to those who want to shop for coverage. That’s because some states have dozens of plans to choose from, a process that could take hours to sort through on the telephone.

So the phone number is a short term and long term fail but fear not, there's always the good old paper application. What could possibly go wrong with paper? Back to Politico:

“Our challenges have included coping with the performance of the portal as that is our means of entering data just as it is for the consumer,” Lau said, referring to HealthCare.gov. “With the relatively low volumes of applications we have received thus far, this has not been a problem for us.”

But Serco will be flooded with paper applications if the website glitches persist, predicted John Gorman, founder of the Gorman Health Group, which has advised some of the insurance exchanges. “Serco is going to be swimming in paper within the next two to three weeks,” he said.

What all of this points to is something that the President and many of his allies have been trying to deny for most of the week. Obamacare does not work without a functioning website.

Notice I'm not saying Obamacare does work with a functioning website. There are layers of failure here, most of which we've yet to explore. But the website is necessary for this to even have a hope of working. Here's Ezra Klein on that point:

The federal website is the crucial link between the government, consumers and insurance companies -- and the administration, at least back in June, believed its success would drive everything from public perceptions of the law to the Medicaid expansion...HealthCare.gov isn’t just a website. It’s essential to Obamacare’s success.

There's more to Klein's argument about why that is so but the bottom line is that the website is mission critical. There really is no workable alternative.

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posted by Guest Blogger at 06:42 PM

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